A solitary figure stands in the tunnel opening, just a few feet from the sidelines. As he stares at the cavernous football stadium, a mist descends from its 82,500 empty seats and begins to envelop his long, pale fur coat.
A deep male voice intones: “Back in the days when the game was dominated by rough-hewn warriors, there emerged a different kind of player who lifted New York out of its gritty past into a new world of style. Today, that style has returned to the city where it was born.”
A different voice intrudes as the figure turns to face the approaching camera. It’s Donald Trump: “Who were you expecting, Joe Namath?”
Pure brand marketing so far, the 30-second commercial concludes with a call to action urging fans of the New York Jets—whose former quarterback “Broadway Joe” Namath famously wore a mink coat while sitting on the sidelines—to join in an online ticket auction at jetscoachesclub.com and StubHub.com and bid on the most exclusive seats in the stadium. From Oct. 19 to 27, 2008, the team collected $17 million online from that campaign, says Matt Higgins, executive vice president of business operations for the Jets.
But the “Trump card” was just one hook—the real conversion tool in the Coaches Club campaign was the fusion of brand marketing and direct marketing. Even the video shows this hybrid approach in action, says Larry Rowen, cofounder of New York-based Fly Communications, the lead ad agency tasked with helping the Jets sell out the $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., by the start of the 2010 season.
Starting in 2008 with the Coaches Club auction, the organization had to sell season tickets at thousands of dollars a pop—during the Great Recession. The Jets needed to sell all the seats by opening day, Higgins adds, because National Football League rules would have blacked out television coverage otherwise. So the team chose to continue the brand/direct fusion during its biggest season ticket push: a campaign dubbed, “It’s Go Time!”
Just as it had with the Coaches Club campaign, the Jets spent a month on brand awareness and followed that up with direct. Deploying “It’s Go Time!” just three months before 2010’s opening kick-off, the organization that Higgins says likes to be innovative and daring pulled it off. The stadium sold out, and Jets fans were able to see every game until their hearts broke one step away from the Super Bowl (again).
“It was really direct marketing supported with a significant branding campaign,” Higgins says. “Direct marketing proved to be, really, an incredible tool in reaching the demographic of the buyer that we needed to reach. I would say that it was the difference between success and falling short.”
Beating the Blackout
By the beginning of 2010, the Jets had the memory of the Coaches Club campaign—complete with brand, direct, and even guerilla marketing tactics that had players and cheerleaders on the streets in Manhattan pretending to be on a field that was just five yards away from the club’s deck, as the club itself offers. But it was time to get to work on selling the bulk of the season tickets.
Around spring 2010, Rowen’s agency was working with a media team—New York-based KSL Media—on the nitty-gritty research. Analytics would be employed by the Jets throughout the campaign—from Fly and KSL constantly optimizing to the Jets using its own proprietary system to monitor progress.
“We’re a very data-driven team,” Higgins says. “We’re always looking at the marketplace trying to analyze our own trends. … I have the ability, at any moment, to look at every single seat in the stadium [with the Jets’ analytics tool], and we had a heat map on top of it. So I could see the percentage sold, I could see when it sold and who sold it. And then I was able to listen in on every sales call at my desk.